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Ginkgo Bioworks and Robertet to develop new fragrance ingredients

By Deanna Utroske

03-Nov-2015
Last updated on 03-Nov-2015 at 17:56 GMT2015-11-03T17:56:33Z

cultured fragrance ingredients (photo courtesy of Ginkgo Bioworks)
cultured fragrance ingredients (photo courtesy of Ginkgo Bioworks)

The Boston, Massachusetts–based organism engineering company announced today that it has entered into a multi-million dollar contract extending its partnership with fragrance maker Robertet.

The companies have teamed up before on rose scent derived from custom microbes. And at today’s Consumer Bio conference in San Francisco, California, Jason Kelly of Ginkgo Bioworks revealed that their next project is to develop a new pallete of seven cultured ingredients in the lactone family, those that “produce a creamy character and smell similar to coconut, peach, apricot and mango,” explains Ginkgo Bioworks.

Cosmetics Design spoke with that company’s Creative Director Christina Agapakis to get the details on this deal and uncover how exactly the company is using biotechnology to develop fragrance ingredients.

Applied biology

In general terms Ginkgo Bioworks brews ingredients by taking advantage of natural biological mechanisms. “Ginkgo designs yeast that will produce fragrance ingredients as part of a fermentation process, similar to a brewery,” explains Agapakis.

As yeast grows, it ferments sugar into alcohol and many of the flavors that are found in beer. By engineering the yeast with enzymes from plants, our strains can produce different flavors and fragrances, which can then be extracted from the cells and used in perfumes and other products.”

In this new partnership with Robertet, the process is somewhat different. “Because many yeasts already produce lactones, [for this project] we designed the yeast to produce the lactones more efficiently,” she tells Cosmetics Design.

Getting a scent right is fairly complex. Her team at Ginkgo Bioworks knows that scientific data alone will not be enough. “To create a perfume you need more than just the data from mass spectrometry, you also need to know what it actually smells like to a nose.”

Agapakis acknowledges that “making perfumes is therefore a really great mix of art and science.”

Fragrance resources

Ginkgo Bioworks’ technology means more ingredient choices for perfumers. Since today, “most fragrances are built from a combination of ingredients that are extracted from plants and synthesized chemically. Cultured ingredients add a new option of scents that are produced biologically through fermentation,” observes Agapakis.

It’s tech that is easily scalable too: “With fermentation, the yeast cell is the ‘factory’ that produces the ingredient,” she notes. “This means that the factory can grow itself and more of the ingredient can be made if you give the yeast more room to grow and more food.”

In a deal, like the one with fragrance maker Robertet, Ginkgo licences custom yeast strains to its partner and both companies earn royalties for the sale of the ingredients.   

“We hope that as the palette of cultured ingredients grows and there are more options available to perfumers, there will be a fragrance blend made entirely of cultured ingredients,” Agapakis tells Cosmetics Design.

Potential yield

“Many ingredients can be made biologically with Ginkgo's technology,” recognizes Agapakis. And some see designer microbes as the key to sustainable fragrance ingredients.

Conventionally lactones come from tropical plants, such as the bark of Massoia trees in Papua New Guinea. According to Ginkgo Bioworks, the extraction process kills the tree so chemical processes are increasingly used to create alternative ingredients.

“There is tremendous opportunity in this technology for fragrance ingredients, particularly those that are rare, extracted from endangered or otherwise unsustainable sources, or for biological ingredients that cannot be isolated from a plant source, which is the case for several floral scents used in perfumery,” she tells Cosmetics Design.

It’s a technology limited only by the imagination. “We are also developing unique blends, like the cultured rose project with Robertet,” says Agapakis. “With this kind of project, a fragrance company can have its own specially designed ‘varietal’ of flower.”

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